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Notre-Dame fire likely caused by short-circuit, official says

A French judicial police official on Thursday said investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire.

French president honours firefighters who saved iconic Paris cathedral

A Paris fire brigade member sprays water on flames inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral on Monday, in this image provided by the Paris Fire Brigade. (B. Moser/BSPP via Reuters)

A French judicial police official on Thursday said investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire.

The official, who spoke anonymously about the ongoing investigation, said investigators still don't have the green light to work in the cathedral and search in the rubble due to safety reasons following the fire Monday that destroyed the cathedral's roof and spire.

We've seen before our eyes [your] responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organization. The worst has been avoided.- French President Emmanuel Macron

He told The Associated Press the monument is still being consolidated with wooden planks to support some fragile parts of the walls.

France is paying a daylong tribute to the Paris firefighters who saved the internationally revered cathedral from collapse and rescued its treasures from encroaching flames.

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the firefighters for a special gathering and said they will get an honour medal for their courage and devotion.

"We've seen before our eyes [your] responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organization," Macron said. "The worst has been avoided."

French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to the firefighters who helped extinguish the Notre-Dame Cathedral fire. (Christophe Petit Tesson/Pool via Reuters)

Later, Paris City Hall will hold a ceremony in the firefighters' honour, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the monumental city headquarters and readings from Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

More than 400 firefighters took part in the battle to save the 12th-century Notre-Dame on Monday evening. Its spire collapsed and roof was destroyed, but its iconic towers, rose windows, famed organ and precious artworks were saved.

Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, which occurred during a mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated those inside.

Among the firefighters honoured Thursday is Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who helped salvage the Crown of Thorns, said to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.

Another is Myriam Chudzinski, among the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged. Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers. She had trained at the cathedral for just this moment.

"We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn't really know the intensity," she told reporters. "It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly."

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      She heard a roar, but her focus was on saving the tower. She learned later that it was the sound of the spire collapsing.

      Investigators so far believe the fire was accidental, and are questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations to the cathedral before the fire broke out.

      Some 40 people have been questioned, and some are being questioned again Thursday, according the Paris prosecutor's office.

      Fire officials warn that the massive cathedral still remains fragile, and are removing some statues above the rose windows to keep them from falling.

      A massive fundraising effort is underway after the devastating cathedral fire. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

      The building would have burned to the ground in a "chain-reaction collapse" had firefighters not moved as rapidly as they did to battle the blaze racing through the building, said Jose Vaz de Matos, a fire expert with France's Culture Ministry.

      An initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20 p.m. local time, as a mass was underway in the cathedral, but no fire was found. A second alarm went off at 6:43 p.m., and the blaze was discovered on the roof.

      Competition for new spire

      Macron wants to rebuild the cathedral within five years — in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics that Paris is hosting — but experts have questioned whether that's realistic, given the vast scale of the work to be done. One said the Notre-Dame rebuilding project would easily take 15 years. Nearly $1 billion US has been pledged for the cathedral's restoration.

      Macron also announced an international competition to design a new spire for Notre-Dame Cathedral.

      "Since the spire wasn't part of the original cathedral," the Élysée Palace said in a statement late Wednesday, "the President of the Republic hopes there will be some reflection and a contemporary architectural gesture might be envisaged."

      Computer-generated pictures online included ideas for a soaring glass needle to replace the 91-metre spire, which was added to the cathedral in the mid-1800s, replacing a medieval one that was removed in 1786.

      The bells of cathedrals across France rang in a moving tribute Wednesday to Notre Dame and the firefighters.

      With files from Reuters

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